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Thanks a Million

Pacific Northwest Ballet's 'New Works' Program

by Dean Speer

March 17, 2012-- McCaw Hall, Seattle, Washington

It seems appropriate that Pacific Northwest Ballet’s New Works program comes on the heels of a very long Seattle Winter and just as the flowering plum and cherry trees are turning pale pink and crocuses are poking their cheerful heads up through the soil.

A time for celebration, our performance date also happened to fall on Saint Patrick’s Day and the celebration of my father’s 93rd birthday – who was able to join us for the show.

The first two works this round were by outlanders – one by English choreographer David Dawson whose work is new to our Northwest shores; one by someone half-Belgian and half-Colombian, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa [who is featured on the cover of April’s Dance Magazine]; and finally one by a West Coaster, Victor Quijada.

"A Million Kisses to my Skin" is David Dawson's tribute to and remembrance of being a dancer and the few times that everything "jelled" in performance -- how it felt -- the joy and ecstacy and love of dance expression. Made originally for the Dutch National Ballet, this was a "Wow!" piece and the work on the program that I find to be the strongest in terms of choreographic structure and form.

The cast of nine – Sarah Ricard Orza; Carla Körbes; Lindsi Dec; Laura Gilbreath; Maria Chapman; Lesley Rausch; and the men – Lucien Postlewaite; Seth Orza; and Jonathan Porretta -- really bit into the strong movement phrases. This work uses all the stuff that dancers like doing – grand allegro, big movement, steps that travel; nothing too precious. As such, it was very kinetic and fit perfectly with the Bach chamber work that underscored it [Concerto No.1 in D Minor]. The women got to enjoy some particularly fleet of foot pointe work – extreme pas de bourées that covered the stage, pushing them to balances on the precipice.

About two-thirds of the way through, when the cast is facing upstage and making port de bras from fifth high to low by opening their arms en de hors, I was suddenly struck by the fact that the choreographer had suddenly, right at this juncture, embodied or become highly aware of form. Before, the dance did have form but this was embedded and carried by the movement phrases and steps themselves. But now, I could see him thinking and working the choreography in terms of composition – and this was exciting and neat to observe.

As I replay the “tape” of this exciting and fresh work in my mind, I find myself uplifted, smiling with joy with each sinew and hope to see this...and more of Dawson’s the very near future.

How to tell a story – even a bit of one – or to express a mood or feeling has been critical in dance for centuries but it continues to have its challenges. The catalyst for Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Cylindrical Shadows” was the sudden passing of a friend and colleague. First produced by Whim W’him in 2011, this is one of those multi-scene works with seemingly disparate motifs and phrases yet, in this case, the mental thread we follow is the so-called Life Cycle. Also for a cast of nine – Andrew Bartee; Laura Gilbreath; Eric Hipolito, Jr.; Kylee Kitchens; Kaori Nakamura; Lucien Postlewaite; Price Suddarth; Ezra Thomson; and Jerome Tisserand – this dance has a hip, purposefully contemporary look and feel to it, even though a couple of the women are in what we think of as stock ballet attire, including pointe shoes. I would have liked for the women to have been used more, especially Nakamura but this is only really a minor fuss.

The world premiere of Victor Quijada’s “Mating Theory” was the program's most challenging work to grasp. Part of the challenge lies in its use of a muted vocabulary – that of hip-hop and modified break dancing that, in itself, tends not to be “presentational” but more inward and introspective. So, we viewers have to readjust our lenses and visual expectations. This genre also tends to be on one level, kinetically, inviting the audience to zero in and look more closely.

In other words, the first piece is all “Biff!” “Bam!” “Boom!” Wowzie” and the last, in comparison, understated.

The cast deftly defied their balletic training conventions with aplomb – Andrew Bartee; Lindsi Dec; Rachel Foster; Eric Hipolito, Jr.; Carrie Imler; Margaret Mullin; Leah O’Connor; Lucien Postlewaite; Price Suddarth; and Ezra Thomson.

While other programs throughout the year contain new work, the annual New Works program is devoted exclusively to local or world premieres. The programming is exciting and venturesome and guaranteed to generate lively audience discussion.


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